Starting life as the winner of indiePubs third Annual Independent Game Developer Competition, Hitbox Team’s Dustforce is a 2D platformer that is as fun as cleaning your room.
Picking one of four different characters, each with a slightly different take on their cleaning methods, your task is to clear each stage of clutter in the shortest amount of time possible. Simply by walking, sliding or attacking an area, your character will clean up anything in that spot, making the act of cleaning a passive action. Meaning that your skills are determined by your ability to perfect your line through each level, cleaning up along the way and nothing more.
At its core, Dustforce is simply about its mechanics. On top of the normal abilities to jump, double jump, dash, run short distances up walls or across ceilings, your warrior janitor also has the ability to earn an extra in-air action if they strike a ‘foe’. This leads to a number of instances where momentum needs to be kept to move across ceilings or up vertical drops, making each map feel as if it was designed as just a series of button combinations that need to be executed one after another. After completing a run, jump, double jump, wall run, , jump, attack, jump, attack, dash, land, series of events to bypass a gap, you will be tasked to do another countless more times simply to reach the end of each of the game’s 50 levels.
As fun as it can be to traverse certain areas and master its simple controls, Dustforce is little more than a memory and patience test that’s charm can only last as long as your need to perfect your run. As the only mix up to the standard fare of running and jumping are the handful of levels that just have you clear a room of baddies under the clock. But, after having played through numerous areas to get to these points, Dustforce has already proven that opponents are designed as little more than a catalyst for your next jump, making these distractions all the more pointless when you don’t need them to reach new heights.
Sadly, that is pretty much all there is to Dustforce.
Besides the controls and the fact that there is absolutely no story, the only other noteworthy thing about this indie title is the amount of atmosphere it is able to establish. Visually, while the color pallet for Dustforce is a bit muted, its focus on shapes and physical forms instead of detail work as a great way to give it a a unique and appealing styling. This is only highlighted by wonderful movement animations that make each protagonist look and move like a ninja out of a classic anime.
The whole game is broken up into four major areas, giving each a distinct look as the dust can change to goo or physical trash from one area to the next. But besides the general texture change, everything feels redundantly similar. This is also something that can be said about the enemies, which in reality act more as floating objects and little like something of real danger or concern. Given that Dustforce seems to rely on repeating constructs and mechanics, it is difficult to not be dragged down by its monotony, unless you are into endless repetition.
The game’s soundtrack was created by independent musician, Lifeformed, which served as a great distraction to having redo certain areas dozens of times until I figured out the pattern. Playing as a mix between melody and beat, each track is a great example of using chiptunes to highlight a modern take on a classic styling.
Besides the single player option, there are multiplayer aspects to the title, but due to the inability to find anyone playing online, this option could not be tested at the time of this review. Fans of the PC version will also be sad to know that the PS3 version does not contain the ability to create maps, nor does it allow access to user-generated content.
Overall, Dustforce is a title that is perfect example of a game that is only as good as what you are willing to invest into it. If you have never really understood the need to do a speedrun or care very little about perfecting lines, chances are you will tire of its repetitive nature long before you reach the end. But, if you do enjoy learning maps and running along generally linear paths against the clock, you will find it here in spades and with enough style to possibly make it worth the $9.99 investment.